Lack of funding for Guatemalan food crisis appeal sparks concern at UN

9 April 2010 – More than a month after the United Nations and its aid partners appealed for $34 million to respond to the food crisis in Guatemala, less than 10 per cent of that amount has been received, prompting UN officials to express concern today over the plight of the estimated 680,000 people in need.

Guatemala has been hit by a prolonged drought, one of the worst in the country in three decades, resulting in severe food shortages that have exacerbated the country’s chronic malnutrition problem, Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters in Geneva.

An estimated 43 per cent of Guatemalan children below the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, one of the worst rates in the world.

But so far only $2.9 million has been received in the appeal, according to OCHA.

The rise in acute malnutrition, including clinical cases of kwashiorkor and marasmus, has hit the so-called ‘dry corridor’ in the east and centre of Guatemala particularly hard.

Kwashiorkor is a malnutrition-related illness, which results from a protein deficiency in a person’s diet. Symptoms include a swollen abdomen in children, diarrhoea, skin peeling and reddish hair pigmentation. Marasmus is also the result of malnutrition and causes children to look emaciated with extensive tissue and muscle loss.

Funds sought in the appeal are intended to complement national relief efforts and provide support for food, health, nutrition, agriculture and early recovery projects, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene projects for six months for people living in departments in the east of the country, including the ‘dry corridor’ – Jutiapa, Santa Rosa, Zacapa, Chiquimula, El Progreso and Baja Verapaz – and the neighbouring Izabal and Quiché departments.

The effects of the drought have been made worse by rising food prices, a decrease in remittances because of the global financial crisis, cost increases for agricultural items, such as fertilizer and pesticides, and a decrease in job opportunities.

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